The Most Beautiful Suicide
Photography by Robert Wiles
On May 1, 1947, 23-year-old Evelyn McHale leapt from the top of the Empire State Building. Her body landed on a United Nations limousine over a thousand feet below, obliterating the roof of the car and horrifying pedestrians passing by the iconic landmark.
The commotion drew photography student Robert Wiles who snapped a photo of McHale just minutes after her death. Though Evelyn plummeted 86 stories, or 1,050 feet, Wiles’ photo reveals a calm, beautiful corpse, eyes closed, fingers still clutching a pearl necklace. McHale looks as if she could be sleeping, but the limousine’s mangled roof and shattered glass tell a different story.
Wiles’ shocking photo ran in the May 12 issue of Life magazine with a caption that read “At the bottom of the Empire State Building, the body of Evelyn McHale reposes calmly in grotesque bier, her falling body punched into the top of a car.” Evelyn’s desperate act came to be known as “the most beautiful suicide” and newspapers around the world published the haunting image. The photo even inspired Andy Warhol’s Suicide (Fallen Body) serigraph, part of his Death and Disaster series.